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Name: Carl Weidetz
Occupation: Owner of Ocean Beach Hardware
Part of town: Ocean Beach
In the late 1960s, Carl Weidetz left college and decided he wanted to be a banker. It was the height of the Vietnam War and Weidetz was going from interview to interview looking for work.
“On about the third interview in banking, the guy asked me about my status. I said, ‘Well, I’m a 1A.’” That was Weidetz’s draft status and it meant he was eligible.
“He said, ‘You’re just wasting my time’ and he walked out of the room,” Weidetz said.
So, he dropped the banking concept and made his way to an employment agency. Eventually, he wound up interviewing at Ocean Beach Hardware, with a man named Harold Sulek.
“I walked in and talked to him for about 10 minutes,” Weidetz said. “Told him about my background. My father was actually one of his father’s competitors. And, he hired me right then.”
More than 40 years later, Weidetz is now the owner of Ocean Beach Hardware. I wound up photographing him because last week, I photographed Ftimah Ilahi for this series. While talking with her about her work refurbishing furniture, Ilahi told me she gets all her paint from Weidetz’ store.
So I headed down to the store on Newport Avenue and chatted with Weidetz about how he came to own the store, competing with big name hardware suppliers, and how Ocean Beach has changed since the 60s. And, at the end of the interview, I asked him a series of questions that will lead me to the next person I’ll feature in the San Diego People Project.
Tell me about when you transitioned from being an employee of Ocean Beach Hardware to when you became the owner of Ocean Beach Hardware.
One of the funny things was when I was first hired by Harold, he said, “I want to retire by the time I’m 55. If you want, I’m going to give you first crack at buying the store at that time.” I said, “OK, that sounds good to me,” which was a good incentive to stay with him. It eventually came down to, his wife had a reoccurrence of cancer, and he wanted to spend more and more time with her. So he said, “I know it’s not quite time yet, but you need to buy it now, or I’m going to sell it to someone else.” So, I scraped up enough to get started and he took out a long-term loan for me. So basically, he held the note and I just made monthly payments to him, with interest, and eventually paid it off. So, he was real good to me with that, because he could have sold the store on the open market to someone else. But he was willing to work with me and we made it work out.
How has this place evolved as a business since you started working here in ’69?
Mostly, it’s been a matter of expanding the stock. We’ve added more lines and more in-depth lines. And were still one of the best places to get a lot of items that people in the area need.
So in quantity and quality, we’ve probably tripled what he had at the other store.
Are there increasing challenges as a mom and pop shop to compete with the Ace Hardware and the Dixieline and the Home Depot’s of the world?
In most instances, no. In a lot of respects, we can match or even better a lot of their products — the household things, the plumbing — because we don’t have to sell so much per square foot.
Is it tough running a business down by the beach? It seems like you’d have pretty high rents.
Rent is always a problem. It’s part of the reason why I moved from up where I was to here. (Ocean Beach Hardware moved from a different Newport Avenue location in January 2009.) And that’s a big move. It cost a lot of money and a lot of time. It’s not something a store like mine ever wants to do. But, it just happened. And, what you have to do in a lot of respects is think long term. Yes it’s going to be a struggle for the first two or three years, four years maybe, and then if you’ve got a long-term lease, which I have now, then it will balance out in the fourth year, fifth, sixth, seventh. And then, down the road, theoretically, you should be making more then what the rent’s hurting you now.
There’s obviously been a big debate in recent weeks about young homeless people in Ocean Beach. They’ve been accused of aggressive panhandling. And, now there’s the big controversy with The Black selling the “Don’t Feed Our Bums” stickers. What’s your take on the overall situation?
Unfortunately, this year, I have to agree with The Black. Ocean Beach has — I don’t want to say supported the homeless — but there’s been quite a few characters that border on homeless that have found a way to live in Ocean Beach. And they’re tolerated, sometimes they’re encouraged. A lot of them have gotten help and have gone on to better things. Some of them have been around for years and years and years and both the police and the community know that.
If they’ve found a way to work within Ocean Beach, it’s fine.
But this last year, as you say there’s a group of young people that I wouldn’t even say in some respects are homeless. But aggressive, yes, very much so. It’s not so much asking — it’s demanding. And sometimes it’s demanding more than just money, I think. It’s very intimidating. And that really, really goes against what Ocean Beach has been. The people that say they have a right to live here, or to panhandle — no, not if they’re doing that. As far as I’m concerned, that’s awful close to just robbery.
One of my female friends I hadn’t seen in a long time came down to do a house sitting. And, one of the guys in a group of three demanded some money from her. I mean, he didn’t ask, he demanded it. She said no and started to walk away and he grabbed her arm. Unfortunately, she’d been in the military so she doubled him over. The others left her alone and she just walked away. And you have to do a lot to get her unhappy.
How else has Ocean Beach changed since you’ve been here?
Ocean Beach actually has a cycle. It runs about every seven or eight years and it goes along for about that time and then something happens and it seems like the whole character of Ocean Beach takes a change.
We’re just finishing up our antique phase. You’ll notice now, there’s only maybe three or four larger good antique stores now. But when it started, it would be about seven years ago or about.
— Interview conducted and edited by SAM HODGSON